The Right Approach to Violence in Video Games

It’s been almost a week since the tragic shooting at a Newtown, Connecticut elementary school, and many of us are still stunned. At, we took a moment of silence for the victims and their families and friends affected by the incident. Talking about what happened now is a risky subject, and something that is probably uncomfortable for most readers, but I feel there’s something to be said that is relevant to gamers worldwide. In response to the shootings, West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller recently pressured the National Academy of Sciences to study the effects of violent video games on children over prolonged periods of time. While this move has good intentions, I believe that the study would simply throw a bucket of water into an ocean of studies on the same topic, and—most importantly—the study would fail to address the true culprit of the tragic shooting.

As Dave Walsh said in his article, the media has been fairly good handling the fact that the shooter played violent video games. They have been focusing mainly on gun control, and perhaps a few outlets have focused on psychological support. Unfortunately this has not held true for the Senate, which has chosen to hone in on video games as the reason for the shooting. There have been plenty of studies on violent video games in the past—and while it’s true that many of them have been short-term, they generally come to similar conclusions: violent video games DO cause aggressive behavior. While they also have many beneficial effects, this point still rings clear. Doing a long-term study of violence in video games will produce a similar conclusion to the plethora of studies on the same topic, but it will not solve anything.

Yes, I’m saying violent video games can encourage violent people to do violent things. But there’s a difference between increased aggression and increased psychosis. It is more likely that violent video games, along with other forms of media such as movies, comics, and even novels, are simply something that previously psychotic people can use as justification for their emotions (and that’s assuming that it turns out there is a positive correlation between violent crimes and violent video games in the first place). There are already many measures in place to keep violent games out of the hands of children, so even if the study goes through and shows that violence causes crimes, there is very little the government could do without outright infringing on freedom of speech.

There is a much simpler, if much more difficult, way of preventing incidents like this from happening in the first place. Psychological conditions in children have been taboo for ages—no one wants to be the parent with the crazy child, the parent with the kid that won’t stop crying, or the parent of the kid who can’t talk to anyone. Seeking serious help for children—outside of school counseling, which has its limits—has always been difficult, and it’s probable that many children don’t get the help they need from the start. Training teachers and parents to recognize the symptoms of psychological disorders—and to understand that it is something that can’t be ignored or wished away—should be a priority over finding out what triggers psychotic incidents. Studying how violent video gaming affects children in the long-term is a bit like studying how gasoline affects a fire—the gasoline might help the fire spread, but it’s not what caused the fire in the first place, and it won’t help you figure out how to put water on those flames.

I want to make myself clear here: having a psychological disorder that makes you prone to violence does not free you from being responsible for a crime. But, teaching parents and children how to deal with psychological disorders the right way—with therapy, treatment, and support—may prevent such terrible atrocities from happening in the future. There are many outlets for people going through a tough time–if you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide or even just a tough time, don’t be afraid to use these. There is no reason too small to seek help.